Detention statistics: the government fails to deliver its promise of reform

by

“Indefinite detention makes you lose your mind, your head. I was physically tortured back home, but indefinite detention is psychological torture. The whole idea of detention is based on deportation. But the Home Office can’t deport me. Men in suits in Croydon control my life. But what can I do, apart from bite my lip and carry on?”

Abdi has been in and out of detention since 2006. For 11 years the Home Office has tried, and failed, to deport him, with one particular stint lasting for five years. He describes it as “a game of cat and mouse”. While common sense suggests that he should not be detained as there is little prospect of his deportation, he is locked away in the Verne, far from major cities on the Isle of Portland, Dorset.

“The uncertainty of indefinite detention changes you. I don’t think the way I used to think. I don’t talk to people the way I used to talk to people. I can’t get into relationships. I’ve forgotten how to speak to people outside of detention. In detention you lose touch with the world itself. The world it keeps moving and changing but in detention you are left behind.”

Abdi’s story shows the UK’s indefinite detention in operation; harmful, ineffective and expensive. It’s now two years since the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration recommended wholesale reform of the detention estate, calling for a 28 day time limit. And 19 months since the Shaw Review -the government’s own inquiry – called on ministers to reduce “boldly and without delay” the number of people detained each year. In response, the then Minister James Brokenshire promised that the government would implement a series of reforms which would “lead to a reduction in the number of those detained, and the duration of detention before removal, in turn improving the welfare of those detained.”

The statistics published today by the Office for National Statistics tell a different story. No significant decrease in the number of people detained. No significant decrease in the amount of time people are detained for. No surprises: the government has once again failed to deliver on its promise of reform.

Nearly 28,000 people entered detention in the year ending June 2017, fewer people than the previous year, but hardly a ‘bold’ reduction by anyone’s standards.  Migrants continue to be locked up indefinitely on a large scale: at the end of June 271 people were in detention for over six months. The longest period of time one man was detained for was 1,514 days – over four years.

While the government has delayed and deferred, thousands of men and women are locked up indefinitely, often repeatedly, for long periods of time. Next month, Stephen Shaw will start his follow-up review to assess the progress made since the review was published.

When the Review was first published, William, a member of Freed Voices who was detained for two and a half months before he was granted leave to remain, said: “The Shaw Review makes lots of important recommendations that we welcome and hope the government considers. But any report on detention that side-steps the fact it is indefinite is like trimming the branches and ignoring the rotten trunk.”

This time, the government would do well to listen.